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Hamas says it has met French, Indian officials

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Apr 3 (Reuters) A Hamas spokesman today said Hamas members held talks two months ago with French officials and more recently with an Indian diplomat despite US and Israeli efforts to isolate the Islamic militant group.

Israel and the United States have vowed to shun Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in January and formally took control of the Palestinian Authority last week.

Further tightening Israel's boycott, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israeli officials would not be permitted to have contacts with Palestinians who work for Hamas-led ministries.

Regev said Israeli cooperation on a wide range of issues, including combating the spread of the deadly bird flu virus, would be conducted through UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.

But officials within the Israeli health and agriculture ministries said working-level contacts continued and that they had not been informed of any changes.

Hamas, whose charter calls for destruction of the Jewish state, brushed aside pressure from the United States and Israel, pointing to contacts with other governments.

''Meetings were held here (in Gaza) two months ago with French officials,'' said Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri, without identifying them or providing any details about the talks.

France's ambassador to Israel, Gerard Araud, denied French officials had contact with Hamas. He said France, like the European Union, expected Hamas to first renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by interim peace deals.

''We don't have any contact with the Hamas ... We won't have any contact with the Hamas whatsoever, as long as they don't satisfy the three well-known conditions,'' the ambassador, speaking in English, told Army Radio.

But Abu Zuhri said: ''There is an understanding by France of the necessity for the European Union to reconsider its position regarding Hamas and they have promised to make an effort with other European countries in this regard.'' Abu Zuhri said India's representative in the Palestinian territories met two weeks ago in Gaza with senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who was sworn in last week as prime minister.

India's representative based in the West Bank city of Ramallah was not immediately available to comment. A spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Israel declined to comment.

Diplomatic and commercial ties between Israel and India have increased sharply since the countries established full diplomatic relations in 1992.

Abu Zuhri said the Indian diplomat, whom he did not identify by name, told Haniyeh that India wanted to maintain relations with Hamas and to continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

NO CONTACT POLICY Last week, Washington ordered US diplomats and contractors to cut off contacts with Palestinian ministries, including independents and technocrats in the new Hamas government.

Similarly, under Israel's no-contact policy, Regev said: ''We will not speak to people who are Hamas members. We will not speak to people who report to Hamas members.'' But a spokesman for Israel's Health Ministry said contacts with Palestinian health ministry officials were continuing on bird flu and other issues.

''We are in contact through meetings, also through e-mails, telephones, faxes ... When we are talking about health, there is no politics ... We are in constant touch,'' the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Israel's Agriculture Ministry said: ''On the professional level, there is constant contact.''


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